Why Every Youth Coach Should Avoid Assigning Positions

Do you know what Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin's youth coaches had in common?

If you looked at the title of the article, you might already know...

They played all positions as youth. They played the guard and post positions throughout their development.

Youth players should play and get experience with all positions! That's right, every single kid should get the opportunity to play in the post, at the point, and on the perimeter.

In the U.S., we pigeonhole players WAY too early!

Assigning youth players to specific positions (ex: you're a "post player") literally stunts their growth and development. It also limits their opportunities when they get older.

Here is what you will find though out the article:

  • Why placing youth players in designated positions stunts their development.
  • Videos of Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin explaining their youth development.
  • Solutions to placing youth players in positions, so you can develop everybody to their max potential.

Why Does Putting Youth Basketball Players in Positions Stunt Their Development?

  • Kids Mature at Different Rates and Pigeonholing Limits their Opportunities

    As a Player Development Coach, I can't tell you how many parents come to me saying...

    "My son or daughter has always played the post. They were pigeonholed early because at the time they were the biggest. But they stopped growing and now they have no perimeter skills, dribbling skills or any confidence out on the perimeter."

    If, you as a youth coach, can judge at the 3rd to 8th grade level where a player should be positioned when they are a senior in high school, then you have magical powers. Because it's impossible to tell how much a kid will grow, mature, or even what team they'll be on in 8 years.

    Why would you limit a child's potential by pigeonholing him at a young age?

  • Post Players Need Ballhandling Skills

    To develop your post players, they need ballhandling skills. Your big men can't develop ballhandling skills if you have them run straight to the block on every possession. Your bigs need experience dribbling, passing, shooting, and catching the ball on the perimeter.

    The game of basketball is changing. In today's game, most high school and college offenses have interchangeable positions, use the dribble more frequently, have bigs shooting outside, and spread things out. Players lacking the ballhandling and shooting skills are often left behind.

    Just look at the big men in the NBA -- Dirk Novitski, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, Kevin Garnet and Kevin Love all have something in common. All of these big men have GUARD skills. Where would they be if they didn't have the opportunity to play all positions and develop these skills at a young age?

  • Guards Need Big Man Skills

    Guards need to learn how to rebound, defend in the post, use their footwork, finish inside, and so on. And if you have a guard that can post up, that makes them even more valuable. These skills will make them more valuable, and you just never know which guard will grow up when they mature.

  • Everybody Needs Point Guard Skills

    The most challenging position on the floor is the point guard position. As a result, it's the best position for development. No matter what position you play, everyone benefits by developing point guard skills. Give other players a chance to play the point and blossom.

Why Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant Developed into the Best Players In The World!

iHoops recently came out with two great articles and videos with Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant explaining their youth development.

Here is the video with Blake Griffin talking about his youth development:

Blake Griffin played point guard for two or three years on his middle school teams. Since Blake handled the ball so much as a youth, it helped him develop guard skills. He even says that was the best thing he could have done at that age.

As a result, you have the 6'10 inside-out beast named Blake Griffin.

Now, think of all of the highlights of Blake Griffin. Often, you will see him taking the taller, slower players guarding him out to the perimeter and performing a dribble move to explode by the defender to throwdown one of his highlight reel dunks.

You also see him taking smaller opponents into the post and powering up and through them for an easy basket.

You also see him passing out of double teams with great precision.

This undoubtedly resulted from his youth basketball experience.

Here is a video of Kevin Durant talking about his youth development:

As you see in this video, Kevin Durant had a very similar experience. Thanks to his uncle's wise advice, Kevin now thrives as a 6'9 wing player.

It really begs the question. Would have Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin developed into the best players in the world if they had been stuck under the basket as a post player because they were poor ball handlers or because they were tall?

What Is The Solution to Placing Youth Players In Positions?

There are lot of ways to solve the problem. Here are just a few ideas for you to consider:

  • Let them play all of the positions or use an interchangeable offense.

    When it comes to an offense, you have a couple options. If your offense requires specific positions (ex: 3 out 2 in motion), you can let kids play both positions and switch things around. Let the small kids play underneath the basket. Let the big kids play on the perimeter.

    Another solution is to run an offense with interchangeable positions. A good example and an offense we really like is the Open Post Motion Offense. In this offense, players are constantly moving to different areas of the floor and all players are touching the ball. When appropriate, you can teach post ups and post moves within the offense following a basket cut.

  • Let a different player bring the ball up the floor every 3 to 5 minutes.

    If you have a problem doing this, you can also schedule "weaker" opponents and let your weak ball handlers play point guard for the game.

  • Include tons of skill drills in practice.

    When players have developed a base of performing skills without a defense, one of our favorite things to do is to use 1v1 competitive skill building drills. These are great because everybody has to handle the ball, shoot, and finish in game-like situations.

    Here is an article that explains this concept in more depth and it also has some great sample drills!

    The Missing Link To Player Development.

    Even though we advise to have everybody handle the ball during games, this is a great alternative to use during practice if you can't bring yourself to let everybody handle the ball during games.

  • Preseason Meeting And Education of Parents.

    Let the parents know that you are not focusing on winning. You are focusing on improving. You will be focusing on the process, not the result. Everybody will handle the ball. Everybody will play in the post.

    To stress the importance, reference this article if need be!

  • Create your own youth leagues or youth camps.

    When Mike Zavada won over 100 games in 5 years and 3 district titles as a head varsity coach in Miami, he saw the many issues with youth basketball as he was trying to maintain the strength of the program by working with the younger players.

    Mike noticed many of 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders play in leagues that allow zone defenses, junk defenses, full court presses, and other tactics that work because youth players' lack of coordination, strength, and skill level due to their age to use effective methods to be successful against these tactics. You can read more about this topic at What Defense Should You Teach Youth Players (Zone, Man, Press)??

    Instead of placing these kids in these situations which would stunt the development of youth players, Mike started to have a Sunday camp for youth players. By using lots of skill drills, 1v1, 2v2, 3v3, and structured scrimmaging, he started to notice a big improvement in the skill level of his youth program. When these players started playing for teams in the 5th and 6th grade, he noticed that these players were much more prepared compared to players who had been playing in these leagues prior to 5th and 6th grade.

Keep The End In Mind - Set Your Players Up For Their Best Future

As a result of this approach, you may lose a few extra games that you wouldn't have lost at the youth level. But you'll start to notice something pretty special happening to these kids as they reach the end of their middle school years and their high school years. You'll start to compete against and beat teams that you thought you would never beat. You'll also see some of your players move on to be successful players at the high school and college level because of the foundation that you laid.

Instead of having 1 or 2 guys that handle pressure, now you have 5 on the court at all times. Instead of having 1 good post player, you now have 5 who can take advantage of mismatches at any time.

It's not where you start that matters, it's where you end up.

We hope this article helped shine some light on this topic. And who knows, maybe you'll help develop the next Kevin Durant or Blake Griffin!

Please share your thoughts and opinions below!

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sam says:
10/10/2012 at 3:17:31 AM

i have a short and lean team of high school boys. besides we're inexperienced for tournaments. we're joining later this month and pitted against a much taller and physically stronger teams. what do you advise me to do to be in a relatively fine stance against favored opponents?


Dave says:
10/10/2012 at 3:43:01 AM

While I agree with the sentiment of this, I'm not sure it's practical "in the real world". I'm a youth coach, and I must admit that I have been guilty of pigeonholing players into certain positions - mostly only letting the best ball handlers play point, but often also favoring the larger kids for the post. While I do favor player development over winning games, I do tend to avoid having a poor ball handler with poor floor vision play point. Sometimes I do - just to give them the experience like you say, but this leads to the ball not making it up the floor, and it's to the detriment of the other players on the team. If I had a tall player with the athletic skills that I'm sure Kevin Durant or Blake Griffin had as boys, then sure - play them at all positions. But for weak players - sometimes it's hard to avoid the pigeonholing thing.


coachvic says:
10/10/2012 at 4:02:25 AM

During the summer I run a 6 week weekend camp for grades Pk-10th for boys & Pk-11th for girls. Aside from the fundamental drills we do a great deal of 1v1, 2v2, 3v3. For grades 4th & up we also hold a 5v5 tournament. Each team has 5 players only. Games consist of 5, eight minute quarters. Each youngster plays a different position every quarter. So a youngster gets fo play, the point, shooter, small forward, power forward and center. I add stipulations to each position. 1. The point guard is the only one who can dribble from backcourt to front court. The ball cannot be passed from backcourt to front court. The point is not allowed to shoot at all.

2. The shooting guard is not allowed to dribble. He can only catch and shoot.

3. The small forward can do it all, shoot and dribble.

4. The power forward can only score off of offensive rebounds and must be in the paint.

5. The center must post up on either block. He can only score inside the lane. He always takes the ball out.
3. The small forward can dribble


Matthew says:
10/10/2012 at 4:05:58 AM

Welcome to aussie basketball coaching!! not until senior basketball does it become more specific at positioning.


Robin says:
10/10/2012 at 5:50:30 AM

I think this is a good concept. I coach middle and high school students and you never know how they will develop physically and when. As a coach I believe it's okay to set players in positiins for games and to run your sets but at the same time allow your players to work on various skills during practice. Give them drills they can work on outside of practice as well to work on area's they are less skilled in. This will also help you prepare your players to become more well rounded and make your team that much more difficult to defend. If all of your players are proficient ball handlers, shooters, re-bounders, defenders then you won't have to worry about having a player as a liability.


bill says:
10/10/2012 at 8:17:56 AM

of course it is good concept, except that most youth coaches make sure their son is main ball handler!!!


dave says:
10/10/2012 at 8:35:59 AM

I agree wholeheartedly with this. I coach Jr High Girls. My fault is that I let the parents pressure me into winning instead of development. We have State Championships in our state. I used to treat our season like two seasons. the first being our regular season where we work on development, team, cohesiveness, conditioning etc. The second season is the State series where we use everything that "worked" in the regular season. I just read over what I wrote. Yikes!


Ken says:
10/10/2012 at 10:11:51 AM

There is an old saying... remember- " The center of today might be the point guard of tomorrow. "

We are all probably guilty of doing this, at least a little bit. The key is to teach EVERY player all the skills necessary to play the game. As long as you are doing that, things should be ok.

We ran an Open Post offense so every player had to be able to read the defense, handle the ball well, and make the correct pass or make the right play. Not every player is really good at this but at least we tried to teach them during practice. In games. I told every player that IF play A ( who was not good at handling the ball ) turned the ball over it was on THEM. Make sure that you make yourself available to him.

Not every player can do all those things well, all we can do as coaches is to try and teach them all the necessary skills to play the game... after that, its on them, go out and play and have fun.


Coach Kip says:
10/10/2012 at 10:42:38 AM

I think the point guard position is the hardest not to pigeonhole. If the ball can't get into the front court, things break down quickly. I encourage our big guys to ball handle and our small guys to learn post moves because you never know where they will end of physically.


Douglas Reid says:
10/10/2012 at 12:49:12 PM

I am one of those who tend to pidgeon-hole players. I will now have to change that habit.


sebastian says:
10/10/2012 at 2:23:16 PM

There are good points here. Our practices focus on a lot of the skills needed to play all the positions and everyone participates equally in those drills. We have a 4 out 1 in offense with no designated PG, with any of the players 1-4 permitted to bring the ball up and I don't designate who it should be and let the players figure it out (we emphasize transition so the concern is less who brings the ball up but that it gets up the court quickly). Now when we are in certain game situations, then players roles do get more tightly defined. For example, when facing full court pressure, not all my players can deal with that situation. Also, while we sometimes put a guard-type in the post (often it can help if that player is a strong passer) many times you need a bigger guy in there for rebounding purposes.

The trend now is for everyone to want to be a point guard or have those skills. Equally, important is to head in the opposite direction and really learn how to play in the post, something that is neglected at the youth level (most kids really don't like getting in there and banging). Blake Griffin for all his wonderful talent and exciting play is still learning how to play with his back-to-the-basket.


Reggie says:
10/10/2012 at 2:31:56 PM

I just started coaching a team of middle schoolers, but have worked with my son for a few years now. I couldn''t agree more with this article! In fact, I talked with a 6''4" parent last year who was unable to play far into high school. He''d been pigeonholed into playing the post as the tallest and wanted to avoid the same fate for his son who was also the tallest for our team.


Mark says:
10/10/2012 at 3:52:55 PM

This is something that parents need to work on, not the coaches. I work with my children on all aspects of the game so that when they are called upon to do something from their coach, they will have the skills to do it. I would bet that Blake and Kevin were pretty good players by their own right and their coaches put them at positions that would help the team. As I coach players, I may play them at certain positions in games, but I use practices and scrimmages to put them in different spots. Games are such a small part of what we do and I want the players to be successful rather than go in and do something they aren't prepared to do.


Roger says:
10/11/2012 at 8:12:52 PM

"Even though we advise to have everybody handle the ball during games, this is a great alternative to use during practice if you can't bring yourself to let everybody handle the ball during games."

I suggest that you do some changes in positions of players when the team is leading 20 points or more during ball games.

@ Mark Thumbs up


john says:
10/14/2012 at 10:07:20 PM

i guess im ahead of the curve alittle bit, i have been using this concept for quite some time,despite pressure from parents.i have found
that this really helps younger players learn how to
move without the ball


mbusi derrick says:
10/15/2012 at 5:17:08 AM

i like this idea and this apparently relives the bigs from the fight to make points only in the paint


Bill says:
4/28/2014 at 8:14:54 PM

I have coached from youth to head high school varsity. As a varsity coach my philosophy for the youth level was just that and I experimented with various offenses and found that the Flex was the best offense to teach all positions, as well as screens, using screens and passing. All players learn all positions.
As 5th graders we taught the basic flex and then each year added various counters. We built on the Flex and by their sophomore year we were able to meld the Flex into a 5 out open post offense that took advantage of the inside/outside skills that they had developed.
I coached teams starting in fifth grade that were blown out in their first games of their careers but by sticking with the plan and following through by the time they were seniors they were in the state tournament (the plan was to make winning secondary and build on fundamentals and to build for the future). Another team I had from the 5th grade finished one game away from the state tournament, using the same philosophy.
The problem I had was other youth coaches (mainly parents) refused to stick to the play because to them winning was primary.
At the youth level The main key was that we only practiced for about an hour and we spent at least 35 minutes on individual fundamentals and the rest on offensive breakdown drills that worked on screens & cuts with very little time spent on scrimmaging. At this time we also worked on defense and when we did scrimmage it was controlled scrimmaging.


Joe Haefner says:
4/29/2014 at 10:58:48 AM

Very well said, Bill.

Even though I'm a free form motion guy at the youth level, I support the idea of running the flex offense at the youth level. I think I actually wrote an article about this somewhere.


An issue I've experienced with youth coaches is obsessing over the pattern, instead of using the pattern to teach them how to play.

I know that I did this with my first team.


Ken Sartini says:
4/29/2014 at 3:01:20 PM

Great thoughts guys -

It took me awhile when coaching the youth kids but I got away from patterned offenses too..... problem was... no one played m2m and I wasn't smart enought to run motion vs a zone.

Once I got to the HS level our head coach was BIG on patterns...... after my first year I became the sophomore coach... I had to run his stuff... and I found an article on the flex offense so I ran that a little bit..... he wasn't happy but I ran MOST of his stuff. The kids knew his offense when they moved up.

When I took over the varsity, I ran the flex with a few of the paterened plays he ran.... then I moved on to motion and some sets of my own,... from there. I ran the open post offense and of course everyone thought I was stalling.

I had to explain it to my AD that we were looking to score all the time.... takes, back door, threes etc.

The problem with youth level sports are the parents... all they want to do is win.... teach fundamentals and let them have some fun. A team that is fundamentally sound will be successful. JMO


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